City Faith – Sufi’s Tree, Old Delhi
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
In the beginning there was the tree.
It must be so.
The neem is the first thing you see while walking to the twin Sufi shrines of Hazrat Sarmad Shahid and Hazrat Hare Bhare Shah in Old Delhi, situated on the footsteps of the Mughal-era Jama Masjid.
The area was a wilderness before the Walled City was built as his new capital by emperor Shah Jahan. Jama Masjid was raised on a hillock. Many trees must have been uprooted to create the new city from scratch. Somehow this one, and a handful of others in the vicinity, have survived—or so says the shrine’s rose seller, Shamsuddin, who claims that the tree at the dargah is more than 500 years old. He says it was there even when there was no Sufi shrine, and hence no graves of the aforementioned saints. “In fact, Hazrat Hare Bhare Shah must have been used to meditating under this very neem,” he conjectures, concluding that it explains the saint’s name, which suggests a lush-green world.
There’s no way of confirming the claim. But maybe the factual accuracy doesn’t matter greatly in affairs of beliefs that have percolated down the centuries. Whatever, you don’t have to follow Sufism or in fact any kind of spirituality to cherish the place of this neem.
The tree is situated right inside the heart of the shrine; the trunk separates Hazrat Sarmad’s red grave from Hazrat Hare’s green grave. It goes up through an opening in the roof and spreads out in a network of branches. The tree isn’t that spacious, however, and its fragility makes it look even more precious, its continual survival equally wondrous.
The shrine was renovated some years ago. New tiles were plastered. But those shining walls and tiles too have cracked with time due to the trunk’s sheer force to liberate itself.
The tree continues to command the scene. A pity that visitors are too taken in by the adjacent Jama Masjid monument to notice this neem. But it’s older than the Jama, or so is believed, and so more rooted in the past.